Burger King – Fresh?

Burger King and Mess Marketing recently opened an Art Gallery/Event Space/Think Tank/Hipster artist collective in Chicago dubbed Burger King Studio. The concept is kind of interesting; you can mingle with artists at the occasional event and buy and customize t-shirts on the site. All-in-all, a great fit for BK’s well-known “have it your way” brand position, but there are some pieces of this campaign that have drawn a little too much inspiration from the creative community they’re aping.

Figure 1 – Inspiration?

This is a shot Burger King Studio’s Store side-by-side with Threadless.com — note the similarities in the presentation of the t-shirts, the use of hipster models and solicitations to participate/create your own shirts. Despite the similarities, I could give BK a pass on this one as more of an “inspired by” than a rip-off.

Figure 2 – Rrrrrrrip

Unlike the Figure 1, this example is a 100% rip-off of a classic design created by Experimental Jetset. In fact, this design has been ripped so many times that Experimental Jetset has a section of their site dedicated to cataloging the infractions.

Not only is the t-shirt unoriginal, it kind of made me think of the old McDonalds Big Mac jingle. You know, the one where they sing the ingredients…

Figure 3 – mixed messages

The jingle is about 15 seconds in…


What do you think? Should they get an “A” for going through the effort of trying something new in a well-trod space or is this simply another clumsy corporate co-opting of creative culture?

4 thoughts on “Burger King – Fresh?

  1. Hey Kyle- Just wanted to throw my two cents your way. I’m the group creative director at Mess, and I like seeing discussion and discourse about this project out and about online. Normally I just take it all in, but I saw one particular thing that I really felt merited a direct response, even if that means the account folks give me holy hell monday morning.

    “Aping” the creative community and “co-opting” creative culture seems pretty off base when we’re all active participants in that culture of creativity and community. People on our team paint, make music, blog, dj, silk screen, take pictures, spend probably far too much time on message boards, etc. Personally, I think we’re really fortunate to be able to incorporate so many of our passions and interests into what we do everyday, and if you ever have the chance to meet the team, you’d see that they are genuinely involved in the spaces they work (and play) in.

    Those guys (and gals) put so much of themselves into the projects that we work on, I can’t just let accusations of them being outside of the “real” creative class go unchecked.

    As far as the threadless “inspriation” issues, I’ve think you may be reaching a bit.

    For starters, all of our “hipster” models are the creative folks I just spoke of. We needed some shirt photography, so we all put on some shirts and stood on a white sweep. Pretty simple really, it’s not like we brought in a casting agent and asked for dozen threadlessly looking dudes. It’s just how we look. I’d like to think it’s not hipster overload, but I suppose there is a decent sized pile of fixed gear bikes stashed around the office… either way, we’re working with what we’ve got :)

    Beyond that, I really don’t see how you can make a comparison between the threadless crowd sourcing model- where designers submit original artwork to be scored, sent to production, and sold at retail-with the DIY Online T-shirt Creator. Our flash app lets anyone- regardless or artistic ability or cleverness- whip up their own custom concoction and have it arrive in their mailbox, no voting or mass production necessary. [Fun fact- the custom shirts are actually screened by hand right here in Chicago. It’s a bit intense as far as labor and screen storage is concerned, but we think it’s worth it for such a unique offering.]

    Last but not least, as far as threadless is concerned- a lot of us are friends with a bunch of those guys, and we run in some overlapping circles, both online and around town. They invited me to their christmas party, I invited them to come out to our recent events, etc. Between our respect for them, and our own personal and professional integrity, I don’t think anyone has to worry about the Burger King Studio Tshirt store biting threadless’s site design or business model. (Though I wouldn’t mind getting some sort of inventory display integrated into the next rollout, though I think that is pretty fair game).

    Oh- the “ingredients” shirt. We created a pretty wide cross section of original designs that run all sorts of spectrums- retro-ish, streetwear-ish, and, in that particular case, the Art Director/Burger Aficionado-ish. My guess is people who saw Hurstwit’s Helvetica doc will smile when they see it, and to others it will just be that weird shirt with some words typed on it. I dig Experimental Jetset, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that they own typesetting things in Helvetica just because they do it a lot.

    Anyhow. That’s my personal perspective, and not the opinion of Mess or Burger King, etc.

    If you’re around these parts Nov 21, you should come see firsthand what we’re up to. All of the Studio events aren’t just about t-shirts; tonight’s event, the second in the series, involved six artist creating limited edition Burger King crowns (our printer loved that order- small runs with crazy custom die cuts, awesome).

  2. I have known Rob (above) online for almost a decade now and just wanted to point out that he and most of the people behind the scenes on this project have been friends with the creators/founders of skinnycorp (known originally as “the jakes”) for 10+ years.

    I highly doubt any of the people involved in this project would intentionally rip any of Skinnycorp’s work, however, being as they essentially adolesced (is that a word?) together since Joshua Davis’ “Dreamless” forum almost 10 years ago, there could certainly be some similarities in style between all the parties.

    These are people that know eachother personally!

  3. @Rob.. thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    It’s good to know that you and your creative team are active, passionate members of the creative community. I did feel the Threadless comparison was a bit of stretch (thus the “inspired by” pass); I know there are only so many ways you can present t-shirts/models.

    I think it’s a sensitive subject because we’ve all seen oodles of examples of designers getting lazy and copying others’ work. Without knowing the creatives and the culture of your agency, the call of inspiration vs appropriation becomes a knee-jerk judgement. As an objective observer, my initial reaction was déjà vu.

    I also think the distinction between inspiration and appropriation becomes fuzzier when the work is presented on behalf of a for-profit corporate client who isn’t a long-time participant in the community—I don’t recall seeing TheKing on Dreamless, anyway.

    I do applaud you and your team for promoting local artists and finding an original way to connect with your audience. I’ve always been a little bit skeptical about the value of experiential marketing to global businesses, but I think your team has struck a nice balance between promoting local events and involving a wider audience.

    Finally, I still can’t grant a pass on the “ingredients” shirt. Experimental Jetset doesn’t own typesetting things in Helvetica, but in this case the typesetting is the design, and an iconic design at that… I haven’t seen too many other examples of typesetting featured in MOMA. Again, we can draw distinctions between inspiration and appropriation, but when either is done on behalf of a for-profit client, I think at a minimum it’s poor form. I could have assumed Experimental Jetset was involved in/endorsing/profiting from BK’s promotion (which I don’t think they would appreciate).

    If I happen to be in Chicago during any of the events, I’ll be sure to stop by and say hi. Thanks again for the behind-the-scenes perspective and don’t let your account folks give you too much crap for commenting on work stuff — just tell them it’s the right thing to do when you’re creating web campaigns.

  4. Re: “I could have assumed Experimental Jetset was involved in/endorsing/profiting from BK’s promotion (which I don’t think they would appreciate)”.
    As a matter of fact, we are long-time vegetarians. We would rather lose some limbs than support a burger chain. Just our 2 cents.